“Pol­i­tics is a stale­mate”

For­mer Con­ser­va­tive co-chair and min­is­ter Say­eeda Warsi speaks to Ara­bian Busi­ness about plans, pol­i­tics and pro­tec­tion

Arabian Business English - - CONTENTS - BY ALI­CIA BULLER

For­mer Con­ser­va­tive co-chair and Min­is­ter for Faith and Com­mu­ni­ties Say­eeda Warsi speaks to Ara­bian Busi­ness about fu­ture plans, pol­i­tics and pro­tec­tion

ON A CRISP DE­CEM­BER af­ter­noon, the House of Lords teems with men: the kind of men who are nearly al­ways white, RP-ac­cented and erring to­wards an­cient.

So when the diminu­tive York­shire­born Mus­lim Baroness Warsi bounds up to me – of­fer­ing a gen­er­ous smile and firm hand­shake – it’s clear to see why this straight-talk­ing for­mer min­is­ter has of­ten been de­scribed as a ‘breath of fresh air’.

Stuff the stan­dard but­ton-lipped PR chap­eron – it’s just the two of us and she’d like to get a cup of tea. “That al­right?” she asks in her North­ern ‘I am what I am’ ac­cent.

I no­tice that Warsi sounds breath­less, as if she is lit­er­ally running from ap­point­ment to ap­point­ment. “I like that feel­ing of be­ing very, very busy,” she says as we make our way to Lords’ tea­room. “I’m a woman that’s ob­sessed with lists. I’ve got list-OCD and that’s not a good thing,” she says with an up­roar­i­ous laugh.

I feel dizzy as Warsi lists her typ­i­cal day, which is a back-to-back fi­esta of over-achieve­ment, in­clud­ing mak­ing busi­ness calls, at­tend­ing staff meet­ings, check­ing in on var­i­ous par­lia­men­tary groups, at­tend­ing de­bates and boards, giv­ing talks, host­ing her ra­dio show and, fi­nally, feed­ing her fe­ro­cious-look­ing Ger­man Shep­herd dog. “We got him be­cause I was on an Is­lamic State ‘kill list’,” she says. “No one in their right mind would cross the line with him at the door.”

The huge dog (she shows me a photo – I’d run a mile) is yet more ev­i­dence that Warsi is not your run-of-the-mill baroness. The for­mer min­is­ter’s ca­reer is flecked with out­spo­ken mo­ments that, more of­ten than not, have dom­i­nated British head­lines.

Out­spo­ken

Warsi, 47, who has held the posts of Con­ser­va­tive co-chair, Min­is­ter for Faith and Com­mu­ni­ties and Min­is­ter

for For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Af­fairs, is not one to hold back.

She fa­mously crit­i­cised Zac Gold­smith’s di­vi­sive Lon­don may­oral cam­paign, branded the cam­paign to leave the EU ‘xeno­pho­bic’ and most re­cently said for­mer British for­eign sec­re­tary Boris John­son was a ‘bigot’ for com­par­ing women in burkas to ‘let­ter­boxes’.

Does she think John­son is fit to lead Theresa May’s flail­ing British Con­ser­va­tive party? Warsi’s light de­meanour no­tice­ably dark­ens for a sec­ond: “Aww, you can’t ask me that,” she says. “Well, peo­ple saw how he acted as for­eign sec­re­tary. I’m sure they can make their own minds up based on that,” the con­sum­mate politi­cian adds.

She is slightly more vol­u­ble on the sub­ject of the po­ten­tial pro­mo­tion of Sa­jid Javid to UK Prime Min­is­ter, which would make the current Home Sec­re­tary Bri­tain’s first Mus­lim leader.

“I’m not sure if Sa­jid would de­fine him­self as a Mus­lim leader… he has made it clear at times that is a part of his her­itage but not a part of his life. We have to be care­ful how we couch him and how we frame him. He has got to be al­lowed to do that for him­self.”

Warsi adds: “The Con­ser­va­tive party doesn’t care if some­one is brown or has a Mus­lim name; it’s more about the kind of Mus­lim you are. If they are non-prac­tis­ing, I don’t think that will be an is­sue for any­one, but if it frames who they are

then, of course it would be an is­sue.

“It’s like say­ing ‘is the po­lit­i­cal party ready for a woman leader’. Well, what kind of woman is she? Is she a woman’s woman or a man’s woman? Is she a woman who be­haves like a man? There are so many dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple.”

Trail­blazer

For her own part, Warsi is the proud owner of many ‘first’ mo­ments. She was the first Mus­lim woman to be se­lected to stand for Par­lia­ment by the Con­ser­va­tives, un­suc­cess­fully con­test­ing Dews­bury in 2005. She was the first Mus­lim woman to en­ter Cab­i­net, ap­pointed by David Cameron as min­is­ter with­out port­fo­lio. When she was raised to the Lords, in 2007, she be­came its youngest mem­ber. She is also the first Mus­lim woman to re­sign from the gov­ern­ment – in 2014, over Con­ser­va­tive pol­icy on Is­rael-Pales­tine. She’s still not yet 50 years old.

One of five daugh­ters, born in Dews­bury, West York­shire, to im­mi­grant par­ents from Pak­istan, she prac­tised as a so­lic­i­tor be­fore work­ing her way up through the ranks of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, all the way to the House of Lords.

“I wanted to be in the­atre, but my mother ve­toed it,” says Warsi. “She said I could be a lawyer, an en­gi­neer or a doc­tor – I said ‘fine, I’ll be a lawyer’. At least that way I could be a bit the­atri­cal – no chance of that with the en­gi­neer or doc­tor op­tion,” she laughs.

That’s the thing about Warsi; she gig­gles a lot; she is funny. It’s easy to like her. But there’s also a deadly se­ri­ous side to this hy­per-focused busi­ness­woman. Out of all the parts of what she terms a ‘port­fo­lio’ ca­reer, she dis­likes pol­i­tics the most. She rolls her eyes and says pol­i­tics is “trau­matic and toxic” at the mo­ment.

“The min­is­ters who were jostling for

May’s job were act­ing against the na­tional in­ter­est,” she says. “I like any parts of my job where I feel like I’m mak­ing a real dif­fer­ence. Right now, pol­i­tics feels like stale­mate. I keep be­ing asked by peo­ple who are con­nected to busi­ness what’s go­ing to happen with Brexit, and I don’t think any­body knows any more. They are all un­known un­knowns.”

Warsi is based in Lon­don three days of the week on peer duty. The rest of the time she’s based in Wake­field with her sec­ond hus­band – and the fe­ro­cious Ger­man shep­herd. She works from around 6am to 11pm, of­ten chip­ping in with her hus­band’s suc­cess­ful busi­ness, which sells food in­gre­di­ents and beds.

She says: “As a lawyer, you’re trained to think in re­ally short sharp bursts. I think the abil­ity to pick up a case, learn it, present it and move on to the next job is some­thing that is part of the train­ing I had. I have this abil­ity to do lots and lots of things back to back.”

Bat­tling Is­lam­o­pho­bia

No mat­ter how busy her life, Warsi says she will al­ways make time for the causes she cares for – par­tic­u­larly the plight of Mus­lims in British so­ci­ety and stem­ming the UK’s alarm­ing rise in Is­lam­o­pho­bic hate crimes.

The baroness wel­comes the new work­ing def­i­ni­tion of Is­lam­o­pho­bia that was put for­ward in Novem­ber by the All Party Par­lia­men­tary Group (APPG) on British Mus­lims. The def­i­ni­tion is the cul­mi­na­tion of al­most two years of ev­i­dence gath­er­ing and takes into ac­count the views of dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tions, politi­cians, faith leaders, aca­demics and

com­mu­ni­ties from across the coun­try. It also takes into ac­count the views of vic­tims of hate crime.

Warsi says: “It’s a good start. How can you start to fix some­thing if you can­not even de­fine it? It’s ap­palling that we still do not have a (gov­ern­ment-rat­i­fied) def­i­ni­tion for Is­lam­o­pho­bia when the grow­ing num­ber of at­tacks against Mus­lims shows just how much it is needed.”

She says the term Is­lam­o­pho­bia is in­creas­ingly ‘broad’. “It’s rooted in racism. There has been ev­ery­thing from mur­der to peo­ple who have their hi­jab pulled to peo­ple who are beaten up. Then there are Mus­lims who are over­looked for jobs even though they have bril­liant CVs and de­clined for ten­an­cies. We need a def­i­ni­tion of the Is­lam­o­pho­bia that is broad enough to take all this in.”

Warsi says a change in pub­lic pol­icy is needed to make sure the ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tions are in place to pro­tect those who need it, but she also says it’s about chang­ing what so­ci­ety thinks is ac­cept­able.

“You wouldn’t use the ‘P’ word or the ‘N’ word in pub­lic be­cause it’s con­sid­ered to be so­cially un­ac­cept­able, just like anti-Semitic terms and jokes are deemed un­ac­cept­able. Yet Is­lam­o­pho­bia seems to be fair game. It’s our blind spot. Even main­stream and so­cially re­spectable peo­ple are quite happy to use Is­lam­o­pho­bic jokes and lan­guage be­cause they feel that so­ci­ety will tol­er­ate it.”

Warsi says she wants to see a Bri­tain where ‘Is­lam­o­pho­bia is as un­ac­cept­able as ho­mo­pho­bia or anti-Semitism.’ It’s not long be­fore she takes aim at leaders who ‘green light’ Is­lam­o­pho­bia from the top. “Of course, Boris’s [let­ter­box] com­ment was big­otry. I don’t like the [burka] gar­ment and it’s not some­thing I have ever worn. I don’t think the gar­ment is for mod­ern times, but as long as women are choos­ing to wear it, they can wear it.

“Men need to stay out of our wardrobes. I will not have men us­ing what women wear as a con­ve­nient bat­tle­ground to en­hance their poll rat­ings. Boris said that to get him­self in the news again and get some at­ten­tion.”

Warsi has no im­me­di­ate plans to step back into pol­i­tics but let’s say she could rule the world for just one day, what would this fear­less baroness do?

“I would get in­ter­na­tional agree­ment on cli­mate change – one that they can never ever step away from. I would put in place poli­cies that mean no per­son goes hun­gry – we have enough re­sources in the world for ev­ery­one to en­joy the fruits of suc­cess. Fi­nally, I would get rid of all nu­clear ar­ma­ment in the world and when we all wake up no one could ever use it again!” she laughs.

Be­fore she de­parts, Baroness Warsi lets me into a se­cret: de­spite her quick sense of hu­mour, she says she finds ‘fun’ hard to do.

“Work is fun to me, be­cause I love what I do. My kids tell me I’m not very good at down­time. But I do love cook­ing and those spa hol­i­days – you know the ones where you sit in your night­gown for three days and or­der room ser­vice and more room ser­vice. Yeah, those.”

“How can you start to fix some­thing if you can­not even de­fine it? It’s ap­palling that we still don’t have a def­i­ni­tion for Is­lam­o­pho­bia”

Say­eeda Warsi fa­mously de­fected from the ‘leave’ to ‘re­main’ camps in the lead-up to Brexit

Warsi re­cently pre­dicted that the UK could “crash” out of the Euro­pean Union

Warsi served un­der David Cameron in 2011-2014

uBoris John­son is a fre­quent tar­get of crit­i­cism

Warsi has said that xeno­pho­bia and racist tac­tics have caused the ‘mod­er­ate mes­sage’ of the Brexit cam­paign to be lost

Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid may be pro­moted to UK Prime Min­is­ter

Baroness Warsi vis­ited the Golden Tem­ple in the In­dian city of Am­rit­sar in 2011

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